Q&A with Board Member Carina Edwards on Women HIT Leaders
Q: Why is it important to have women represented at the executive level in the healthcare IT industry?
A: There are countless studies that show diversity of all kinds at the executive level is critical. A recent McKinsey study found that the highest-performing companies are those with women in revenue-generating roles on their executive team. In fact, those companies in the top-quartile for gender diversity on executive teams were 21 percent more likely to outperform on profitability and 27 percent more likely to have superior value creation. The trend in the technology industry is positive, but we still have a long way to go to achieve full diversity across all ranks of the organization. In the healthcare IT industry, it’s important to note we have an amazing opportunity to bridge the gap, as the majority of users of health IT are women. While male MDs outnumber female MDs nearly 2:1, according to the U.S. Census Bureau 3.2 million (91 percent) of nurses are female, and only 330,000 (9 percent) are male. Our goal should be to ensure this demographic understands their career options as their knowledge can translate into amazing solutions to improve patient care.
Q: Can you cite examples, based on your experience as a female health IT executive, where having the perspective of a woman leader contributed to an improvement? This could be in a process, product, to the culture, etc.
A: I think the best example is that of the 3.2 million female nurses in the workforce. The firsthand experience that RNs have with technology workflows, including providing care at the patient bedside, understanding operations, using shared workstations, and logging in and out of various devices and applications, has uniquely positioned them to drive innovation and rise to the ranks of executives and CIOs. While technology expertise is valuable, you can never underestimate the powerful contribution from those on the front lines when you’re looking to innovate.
Q: Early in your career, did you have a woman mentor who helped you?
A: I have been fortunate to have had many bright and talented mentors at all stages of my career – both men and women – inside and outside of the healthcare industry. For me, the key to finding and benefiting from a good mentor is to be continuously curious and open to feedback, new ways of thinking and achieving results.
Q: How did that affect your career trajectory?
A: Great mentors provide a mirror. They aren’t emotionally attached to your situation, so they can provide perspective. I have two great examples of how this feedback has supported my career trajectory. Those who know me know I’m very passionate and very transparent. I have a long history in team sports and I love to win. The lesson I learned from a great mentor and former boss, was knowing when to win…. “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” This is a great lesson for everyone. You will be in situations where you know more and you can win the argument at hand, but the goal of leadership is leading everyone to the same outcome. In these situations, it’s critical to question and allow the team members to understand all points of view, because the outcome will surprise even you, and you’ll get a larger benefit together.
The second example is about style. Back to… I’m passionate; I wear my heart on my sleeve and people tend to know how I’m feeling about a situation. I’ve had executive coaches who have tried to change that part of me, but it was a mentor who pointed out, “You decide who you are, how you can live true to yourself first and foremost, and then you can decide what you want to change.” Today, I’m much better in negotiations because I’ve learned how and when to mask that transparency. But, as a leader, I’m all passion, full transparency all the time. Being your authentic self as you hone your craft is how great leaders excel.
Q: Are there certain characteristics about the healthcare IT industry that are conducive for women to excel and rise to leadership positions?
A: Healthcare IT is not unique when it comes to requiring diversity at the executive level, but it does have a broader pool of talent than traditional technology industries. This is due to the need for depth in clinical workflow, understanding when solutioning technology drives healthcare solutions. There’s a larger pool of female talent with depth in clinical understanding as well as depth in traditional technology. As an industry, we need to engage these individuals to understand their career path options.
Q: Are there also characteristics that pose an impediment? Are these endemic to the healthcare IT industry or more a factor of the technology sector as a whole?
A: Despite facing the same impediments that other industries face, healthcare is at a turning point, and that means there is opportunity for smart, passionate people across the board. To a certain degree, there is chaos right now as the industry transforms, and that opens doors for problem solvers, visionaries and leaders, regardless of gender, ethnicity, etc. Unlike in many other industries, the never-ending search for knowledge and innovation is the prerequisite for getting ahead in healthcare.
Q: What lessons have you learned as an executive that have been helpful in your role as a CHIME Board member?
A: Another great lesson learned from a mentor: “Just because you can run operations and give great operational advice… does not mean you should.” At the executive level, all of us come with great operational depth of understanding, but our focus as board members is mission/vision, strategy and holding the organization accountable to operational excellence. Across the CHIME Board, we hold ourselves accountable to be a strategic board. When we dive into operations, we quickly recognize it and reorient our focus to mission/vision, strategy and accountability.
Q: What outcomes would you like to see occur from Women of CHIME? How can they be achieved?
A: The Women of CHIME initiative has the opportunity to engage not just the current leaders, but the next generation of leaders. I would like to see programs and dialogue at both the executive level and at the next levels down: programing to share leadership lessons and curate conversations to empower the current leaders and the next two levels down, sharing strategies for advancement through education and mentorship opportunities. The education should come from a diverse set of perspectives (men, women, minorities and LGBTQ).
Q: Is there anything you would like to add?
A: Not everyone wants to be an executive, and behind every great executive is an amazing team. It’s our job to ensure that EVERYONE has the opportunities and knows the strategies on how to become one if that is their dream. Engaging with your employees, ensuring they understand their value to the organization and providing an open forum for career conversations allows both employees and organizations to win long term.
Editor’s note: Below is a list of CHIME members and members of CHIME Foundation firms who currently serve on any CHIME board who made Becker’s “Female Health IT Leaders to Know” report:
- Pamela Arora, senior vice president and CIO, Children’s Medical Center of Dallas
- Bobby Byrne, senior vice president and CIO, Advocate Health Care
- Melinda Costin, senior vice president and CIO, JPS Health Network
- Carina Edwards, senior vice president of customer experience, Imprivata (CHIME Board, CHIME Foundation Board, CHIME Education Foundation Board)
- Judith Faulkner, founder and CEO of Epic Systems (CHIME Education Foundation Board)
- Rhonda Jorden, chancellor for information technology and CIO, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences
- Patricia Lavely, senior vice president and CIO, Gwinnett Medical Center
- Amy Merlino, Enterprise CMIO, Cleveland Clinic
- Kristin Myers, senior vice president of technology, Mount Sinai Health System
- Jamie Nelson, senior vice president and CIO, Hospital for Special Surgery
- Tanya Townsend, system senior vice president and CIO, LCMC Health
- Anna Turman, CIO, Chadron Community Hospital
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